Utilitarian to spiritual

While it’s usually dangerous to make claims about universality, making them about water is relatively safe.  The first way in which water is universal is its utility to human beings.  The second is that almost every version of spirituality or religion references water, either by actually using it within its rites or by employing imagery of it.  This page explores the Continue reading

Moving to still

One characteristic of water is that it is always moving, albeit at very different rates.  Even ice moves.  Alice Outwater in her book Water: A Natural History, says that ‘A single water molecule making its way through a stream and forest ecosystem is on a biological Ferris wheel.  A raindrop may hit a leaf, trickle down to the bark of a branch, evaporate to come back down again as rain that flows into soil and is sucked up by a root hair and is transpired from a leaf – to become yet again a raindrop that comes down in a storm and runs overland into a stream’ (Outwater, p. 64). Continue reading

Helpful to harmful

Remember Goldilocks? She was the girl who liked her porridge not too hot, not too cold but just right. When it comes to water, humans are just like her. Too much water is just as bad as too little, and it has to be just right.

Water is so essential to human endeavour that it is hard to keep this brief. On the helpful side of the equation, water is essential to maintain physical health, it’s an amazing solvent and cleaner, it provides beautiful places to recreate and extinguishes fire. On the harmful side, lives and livelihoods are destroyed in floods, damp conditions can affect crops and water can provide the right breeding grounds for organisms that impair human health.  In this blog post I use two Continue reading

A tale of extremes

There are few substances on the planet more changeable than water.  As ice, water, and gas, water impacts almost every aspect of our lives. This blog post looks at places in Australia which have very distinct climates because of water’s ability to change form, from gas, to water, to ice.  In particular, it looks at places where the extremes are reached.  Welcome to the watery edge. Continue reading

Domestic to industrial

Water enables so many tasks in the world that sometimes, we can forget how essential it is. At the domestic level we use water to drink, cook with, clean ourselves and our clothes and to keep our gardens growing.  Industrially, water is a vital input to many industries but perhaps the most well recognised is the agricultural industry.  This post takes a look at two objects, relating to the home laundry and the development of large scale agriculture, as a means of exploring this spectrum of domestic to industrial.

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Introduced to native

The history of water includes the history of gardening. Different species have different water needs, reflecting their place of evolution. When European settlers arrived in Australia full of images of lush meadows and verdant trees, based on their lived experience in many cases, a kind of cognitive dissonance happened. The old environmental reality and their new reality didn’t match up. This gap has been slowly closing over time, and we can see this in action through the history of gardening. These Continue reading

The everything of water

This blog post introduces a series of essays that explore the meanings of water in Australian history and contemporary life. I’m Kylie Carman-Brown, and when I joined the National Museum last year, I volunteered in the People and the Environment curatorial team. I wrote a series of thematic essays that applied ideas I’d developed in my PhD project to better understand water-related objects in the National Historical Collection. My PhD thesis explored the internationally significant Gippsland Lakes, Australia’s largest inland waterway, in southeast Victoria. It was a blend of cultural history, Continue reading

Politics and water power

Recently, in one of those happy accidents of timing, I went on holiday to Tasmania where I was able to visit one of the places I had recently been researching. I have been working on some artefacts from Tasmania, all drawn from the Bob Brown collection.  There are 3000 items in this very large collection, and it remains an ongoing challenge to decide which to choose.

Given that this collection is about political activism against the ongoing development of hydropower in the latter half of the twentieth century, part of the research necessarily includes establishing the historical context of hydroelectricity. I decided to find out, just Continue reading

Water objects in the collection

I’m a volunteer in the People and Environment curatorial team, and I’ve just started working on an online feature about water history.

Recently, on a bakingly hot day, I had my first visit to the Museum’s stores. It was a little bit Dr Who, frankly. Some of what I saw could easily have come off a set from the Tom Baker years. The Doctor, in whatever regeneration he’s in, has the capacity to produce from the bowels of the TARDIS some object that saves the day, or provides a vital clue to Continue reading